By Steve Plunkett
Mail carriers here will be extra-busy this month delivering straw ballots on burying Gulf Stream’s power lines, first-class notices on possibly annexing part of the county pocket and fliers from the Civic Association on both issues.
The straw ballots are due back at Town Hall by 2 p.m.
Feb. 7. The annexation referendum will be March 8 if the proposal survives two public hearings.
Residents will have to decide the issues on their own.
“Keep in mind, the council, the town is not saying we’re for it or against it,’’ Mayor William Koch Jr. said during a December discussion of annexation, echoing comments he made earlier on the underground project. “That’s why we want the referendum, for the people of the town to make the decision. “
Both proposals would make big changes in town. Overhead lines for electricity, telephones and cable TV would vanish below ground if a simple majority of property owners agree to pay their share of the $5 million project. If the county pocket is annexed, town limits would shift north to St. Andrew’s Club on both sides of State Road A1A, Gulf Stream’s population would swell by more than 33 percent, from just over 700 to roughly 960, and its tax base would grow by $93 million.
Annexation “has been something that’s been talked about for many years, the pros and cons of it,’’ Koch said. “And that’s why we’re bringing it to this vote, to once and for all either settle taking it in or not taking it in.’’
Consultants on that issue and the underground proposal updated town commissioners at their December meeting.
Marty Minor of Urban Design Kilday Studios said the county pocket has 12 properties with approximately 100 dwelling units and 93 registered Florida voters. If it is annexed, police and fire-rescue services would shift from the county to the town’s police and Delray Beach fire-rescue, which contracts with the town.
Timing is critical, Minor said. To get the referendum on the ballot, the town must hold two public hearings, with the second at least 30 days before the March 8 vote. That meant commissioners had to change their Feb. 11 meeting to Feb. 4.
Commissioner Muriel Anderson opposed rescheduling the meeting and possibly having some residents unaware of the change, but Commissioner Chris Wheeler objected to having two meetings on consecutive Fridays.
“How often are we going to annex something? I mean, come on,’’ he said.
The annexation possibility has already affected the underground project’s timetable. Consulting engineer Danny Brannon said if the project is approved, work would begin on the south end of town first and last six to eight months before the north segment starts.
“At that point in time we would have clarity on the annexation issue,’’ Brannon said.
The town manager, town clerk and representatives of the town’s auditor and the Civic Association will tally the underground ballots after the straw poll ends Feb. 7. Commissioners were concerned that a proposed ballot did not have enough room for two signatures for cases of jointly held property.
Susan Schoettle-Gumm of consultant Wildan Financial Services said ballots could not go to all owners because they might be returned with opposite, canceling votes, but said she would alter the design to provide space for multiple owners.
Accompanying the straw ballots will be site-specific estimates, from $880 to $1,265 per parcel depending mostly on whether the property already has underground lines.
Bob Ganger, president of the Civic Association, reminded commissioners that similar straw polls won a 90 percent approval in Jupiter Island and 75 percent in Jupiter Inlet Colony.
Jan. 4: Notices of proposed annexation sent by first-class mail.
Jan. 10: Underground information packet/straw ballot delivered to each property owner in project area.
Jan. 12: Civic Association community meeting on undergrounding, 5:30 p.m. at Gulf Stream School Chapel, 3600 Gulf Stream Road.
Jan. 14: Town Commission has first reading of annexation ordinance, 9 a.m.
Feb. 3: Civic Association community meeting on undergrounding, 5:30 p.m. at Town Hall.
Feb. 4: Commission has final reading of annexation ordinance,
Feb. 7: Underground straw ballots must be turned in at Town Hall by 2 p.m.
March 8: Registered voters in Gulf Stream and county pocket cast ballots in annexation referendum.